Tag Archives: traditional mexican remedies

Natural Healing — Yerba de Sapo

Yerba de Sapo / Eryngium carlinae

One day, I was out foraging for wildflowers and came across the unique blue-tinged beauty above. I took a picture of it, but for the longest time couldn’t find anyone who could identify it. Several weeks later, the indigenous herb seller at the local tianguis (flea market) had a basket of these flowers dried. Delighted, I asked what the name of it was and what it was used for. He gave me the name “yerba de sapo” and with that, I was off on my investigations. 

Yerba de sapo translates as toad’s herb in English. The particular variety I encountered is Eryngium carlinae but there are more than 200 varieties in this species around the world. Some sources say this plant is blue thistle, others record it as button snakeroot or sea holly, and yet another source lists it name as Eryngo

The name in Spanish isn’t any less confusing. Yerba de sapo can also be spelled hierba de sapo, however, this is also the term used for Eryngium heterophyllum, another variety of the Eryngium genus with similar health uses. Other names include cabezona and cardón. 

It has been used since the time of the Aztecs as a restorative tonic, remedy for kidney problems, and weight loss aid. The mashed leaves were used to make a poultice for sore eyes. It was also used to regulate menstruation. 

For kidney ailments, a handful of yerba de sapo is boiled in a quart of water. Then one small glass is taken before breakfast. The herb guy recommended a handful of the herb should be boiled along with a bit of palo de brasil (Haematoxylum brasiletto) and palo azul (Eysenhardtia texana) in a tea drunk daily, to lower cholesterol levels and reduce weight.

A tea made from just the leaves is used to treat cough and whooping cough. The roots are edible and sometimes eaten toasted for urinary tract infections. The juiced roots are prescribed as an aphrodisiac, to improve urinary function or induce contractions. Combined with other herbs, it is used in a gonorrhea treatment. It is also used to treat kidney stones and as a cancer remedy. Yerba de sapo is often prescribed to allieviate angina pain and reduce arteriosclerosis.

Few scientific studies have been done on eryngium carlinae. However, those that have been conducted show promising results for its medicinal use. It has been shown to be effective in the treatment of diabetes. It has a hypocholesterolemic effect, meaning that yes indeed, it will lower your cholesterol. It reduces lipid peroxidation in the brain, kidney, and liver while increasing the catalase activity having antioxidant properties. It is antibacterial and has been approved as a beverage with renoprotective effects, thus good for the kidneys. 

Eryngium carlinae grows in chalky or limestone soil and higher elevations. In fact, the specimen I came across during my foraging trip was in the mountains near El Cerro de Los Amoles in what had been a limestone evacuation area. The plant does not like to be moved, but it can be propagated with root cuttings. 

Precautions:

Because it can stimulate uterine contractions, yerba de sapo should never be taken during pregnancy. It should not be ingested for more than eight weeks so as not to cause kidney damage. Those that are allergic to fennel, dill, or celery may experience an allergic reaction. 

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Natural Healing–Jaripos

One day when I stopped to pick up the daily tortillas from my sister-in-law’s tortilleria, she handed me a bag of orange-red fruit and told me to make juice from it. So I did. It was deliciously sour and refreshing. To make the juice, let the berries soak in water until it turns a pinkish color. Then, strain, add sugar or honey to sweeten it and enjoy. 

Jaripos or Limillas

These little fruits are known as jaripos in Cerano, Guanajuato, but neighboring Puruándiro, Michoacan calls them limillas. Puruándiro has taken this fruit, from the Rhus microphylla shrub, into their heart so deeply that they have an annual festival in April celebrating la limilla, which can be used to flavor ice cream, atole, marmelade, artensenal bread and local brews. In English, this shrub is known as the littleleaf sumac or desert sumac. 

The Rhus species has over 250 varieties. Although little study has been done on Rhus microphylla, other varieties have anti fibrogenic, antifungal, antimalarial, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antimutagenic, antithrombin, antitumorigenic, and antiviral properties. Additionally, flowering plants belonging to the Anacardiaceae family are cytotoxic, hypoglycaemic and leukopenic. 

Sumac berries contain malic acid, tannic acid, and gallic acid. Not all sumac varieties are edible. However, Rhus glabra, Rhus typhina, Rhus aromatica, Rhus copallina, Rhus integrifolia, Rhus microphylla, Rhus ovata and Rhus trilobata are.  Sumac berries which are safe to eat are red when ripe and covered in a soft fuzz

In Chihuahua, la limilla is used to treat leukemia. Rhus glabra, Smooth sumac, boiled fruit has been used as a treatment for painful menstruation. The roots and berries were made into a wash for sores. In Monterrey, Rhus Virens, Evergreen sumac, bark is boiled to make a tea used to treat diabetes. 

Rhus Trilobata produces a similar berry to the Rhus microphylla but is known as agrillo. The shrub has an intense smell which is the reason for one of its names, skunkbush. Among different indigenous groups, the bark, fruit, leaves, and roots were used medicinally traditionally. Rhus typhina, Staghorn sumac, leaves protect against oxidative damage

Hopefully, there will be more studies done in the future to ascertain the health benefits from the sumac berry. Meanwhile, while in season, I’ll enjoy an occasional glass of jaripo juice.

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Natural Healing — Mesquite

mesquite tree

If you have ever sheltered under the shadow of a mesquite tree on a hot summer afternoon, you will certainly appreciate at least one aspect that this crooked, spiny, unlovely tree has to offer.

Mesquite also spelled mezquite and known as algarroba, belong to the Prosopis species. There are at least 44 clearly defined species and numerous hybrids, making identification difficult.

The word mesquite comes from the Nahuatl word mizquitl. The invading Spanish dubbed this tree algarrobo because of its similarity to the carob tree they were more familiar with.

In Mexico, all parts of this drought-hardy tree are used. The wood is used for cooking, providing an aromatic, slow smoke that flavors the food. The sweet and nutritious pods are used as a quick chewy snack, fodder for animals and processed into flour. The sap, bark, and leaves from the tree have medicinal value including antioxidant hepatoprotective, hemolytic, anticancer, antibacterial, antifungal, antidiabetic, and anti-inflammatory activities

Archeological evidence shows that the pods have been used as a food source as far back as 6,500 BCE in Mexico. These pods, depending on the species, are made up of 41% sugar, 35% fiber, and 22% protein. They contain lysine, potassium, manganese, and zinc as well. My mother-in-law said that chewing these regularly will help increase a mother’s milk production. She would know. She had 11 children. Then again, mesquite pods are high in dietary estrogen. Our dairy goats love them as well!

The pods can be dried or roasted, then ground into a flour. This flour could be used to make cakes that once dry would last long enough to provide essential nutrients during drought. The powdered pods can also be mixed with water to make a sweet drink called añapa or sometimes allowed to ferment into chicha.

Mesquite wood has been so aggressively harvested that it is now illegal to cut down live trees, not that those laws are strictly enforced. Although in some areas, most notably in San Luis Potosi, cutting a mesquite tree that has three branches that form a cross is considered sacrilegious.

To treat an irritated stomach, a weak tea can be made from 50 grams of mesquite bark per liter of water. The bark should only be allowed to steep a few minutes before straining. If the tea was meant to treat dysentery, the dose is doubled. The tea coats the stomach and reduces inflammation.

This same weak tea can be used as a gargle for sore throats, bronchitis or mouth sores. Finely chopped leaves and bark can be used as a soothing astringent.

The sap has traditionally been used topically for lip sores and hemorrhoids. To make treat irritated or infected eyes, the sap is added to distilled water, sealed and shaken. When the gum dissolves, it is used as an eyewash. An infusion of mesquite leaves can also be used to make an eyewash.

Apparently, mesquite sap is used in a treatment for baldness in some areas of Mexico as well. Two types of mesquite grow in our area. The pod on the left is unripe. When it ripens, it is a cream and red mottled color. It’s sweet and chewy. The pod on the left is called vina locally and is a favorite of our goats, especially after a brush fire toasts them to a crisp. 

 

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